April 12, 2003

Wilderness Protections Rolled Back

In settling Utah lawsuit, White House reverses Clinton policy. New approach may alter how millions of acres are treated across the West.

Elizabeth Shogren
Los Angeles Times

Utah charged that the BLM had illegally been managing those areas as if they had already been wilderness study areas, stalling or killing many mineral development projects. It argued that until Congress designated these areas as wilderness, the BLM should permit mining, drilling, use by off-road vehicles and other development.

The struggle over the fate of federal lands in Utah -- especially the red rock canyon country of southern Utah -- has long been heated. The state has less land designated as wilderness than any other in the West -- 801,000 acres, the vast majority of it on national forest land. Only about 20,000 acres of southern Utah's red rock canyon country, which draws tourists from around the globe, are protected as wilderness.

In the BLM's first wilderness review of its land in Utah, the agency found 3.2 million acres that met the criteria, and most of those areas are designated as wilderness study areas. (Abstract)